17. Sometimes the grief was like ocean waves.

At first, there wasn’t a moment that I didn’t feel as if I were drowning in it. Yanked under by its inexorable, deadly tow. Tossed in its churning waters, utterly at its whim and mercy.

Later, a few months I think, there were moments of calm, even humor. They were difficult because even a bit of laughter felt like a betrayal: I thought I was dishonoring my son, the gravity of his death, by feeling lighthearted. Plus, it was just so incongruous. Living in such misery made spots of normalcy, of fun, seem bizarrely out of place.

But those lighter moments were also made difficult by the cyclical pattern of grief. I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences it this way: It is like ocean waves. Maybe the sky is stormy and the sea is choppy and the waves come hard and fast, one after another, and you don’t get a chance to catch your breath before the next one whops you in the face and bowls you over. You are powerless, just a little bit of unimportant nothingness in the grip of this huge, powerful force, and all you can do is hope your instincts will kick in at the right time to help you grasp at something, anything that might help you stay alive.

Or maybe things are pretty calm, and the waves roll in slowly, not close together at all. Maybe they take their time, rippling along, gathering weight and force as they move in toward the shore. Maybe you’re standing just calf-deep in the water, relatively dry and stable, feeling contemplative as you gaze out to sea. But you still know that next wave is coming.

When I first started getting small breaks from my grief over losing August, they came just a few minutes at a time, and they were both a huge relief and also very scary. It felt so sharply good not to cry — not to want to throw up and die — which is how I felt just about every minute for the first three or so months after he died. But feeling released from the intensity of that sadness scared the shit out of me, too, because I knew the sadness was still right there, a monster just around the corner, and any second it would jump out and get me.

I remember talking about it in my support group, describing it as being rubber-banded back into the grief. The longer I go feeling good, I remember saying, the worse it is. It’s like stretching out a rubber band farther and farther; the farther you stretch it, the harder it snaps back. I’ll go a few hours feeling normal and good, and then suddenly I’m slammed right back into the awfulness of everything, and it’s almost worse than if I’d just stayed in the grief and not felt better at all.

It was horrible. Knowing that next wave was coming, whether it took a few minutes or hours or even weeks to arrive. Knowing that I was trying to claw my way upward out of a hole I’d never get out of, and sooner or later I was going to get smacked right back on my ass again.

It’s better now, of course. I guess you get used to it, and the waves aren’t nearly so huge after a while. But they still come. Every time.

In related news, a very sweet, very beloved baby boy passed away today. Holden Even Stephens was just ten weeks old. I got to meet him and love on him one time, and he was extra soft and delicious, like a warm little bird. Tonight I’m thinking of him and of August, and hoping there is a heaven so they can play up there together and figure out what the Other Side is all about.

I’m also thinking of Holden’s parents, and wishing I could take away all their sadness and pain… Except to do that would be to diminish their love for their son, and the impact of his sweet, short life on theirs. I have no idea why we have to go through this — such attachment to our children and the other people we love, and such devastation when they leave. But I do know the profoundness of loss is a mirror for the depth of love that we feel. And so I don’t really wish to take away Holden’s parents’ grief. It’s a direct measure of how much they love that sweet soul.


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